Traveling in Peru
Peru is truly a cultural rollercoaster. If you are travelling to Peru, it is important that you see more than just Cuzco and you have to stay more than just a week. We spent about 4 weeks in Peru and it was our second stop on our 2014 South America trip. We crossed in from Loja, Ecuador and went to Chiclay first. We visited a number of great cities as we made our way all the way down the country and exited via Cuzco by bus into Boliva. Peru is an incredibly diverse country. It has a long coastal line, a vast desert, the high Andes Mountain range, and the Amazon Jungle, all within it’s borders. You can see all of it easily too. Transportation is super simple and easy to navigate. Traveling around Peru was some of the most seamless and simple land travel I have ever experienced. There are so many different ruins in Peru and a few of them are arguably just as cool as Machu Picchu. It is mind blowing that the direct decedents of the Incas who built Machu Picchu are still making their mark on this country today. Their way of life is very much ingrained in the Peruvian culture.
The Cost of Travel in Peru
- Currency: Peruvian Sol
- Exchange Rate: 3 SOL = $1 US Dollar
- Sleep: $9-$15 usd (private room)
- Food: Lunch/diner (Ceviche, fried fish, rice & potatoes) $2 usd
- Beer: (Pilsen, Cristal, Cusqueña): $5 sol for grande ($1.75usd)
Tips for Traveling in Peru
- Hangout with locals as much as possible. Peruvians are some of the best people.
- Go on free walking tours where they have them.
- Visit all of the ruins you can and really commit yourself to learning about them.
- Stay in the Andes towns to soak up authentic indigenous culture
- Probably don’t go off on a psychedelic quest with a shaman or buy jungle drugs at the witches market. Maybe just get some honey and coca leaves instead.
- If you want to go bus from Lima to Cuzco, you should break the trip up and stop in some Andes towns along the way
Things to do in Peru
- The San Pedro de Atacames desert
- Machu Picchu
- Chan Chan ruins
- Huaca de la Luna y del Sol
- Old town Lima
- The markets in Cuzco
- Paracas National Reserve
- Ceviche-Lime cured raw fish chunks with red onion. My favorite food on the planet.
- Inca Kola- A banana/bubblegum candy flavored soda that Peruvians drink by the gallon. It grows on you fast.
- Trucha frita– Fried trout. Always great.
- Papa Huancaina– Cooked potatoes with a hardboiled egg, covered in awesome spicy cheese sauce.
- Cuy– Guinea pig
- Papa rellana– Stuffed, deep friend, mashed potato ball
- Lomo Saltado– Peruvian stir fry
- Pisco-Grape brandy
- Pisco Sour– Pisco, lime juice, eggwhite, bitters
This is where we made the border crossing from Ecuador into Peru. This was the first time I had ever crossed a land border. The bus on the Ecuador side drops you off and you literally walk into Peru over a bridge and go through their immigration on the other side. Even when you aren’t breaking any laws, crossing borders on foot always makes you feel kind of weird. They will ask a lot of questions and probably go through all of your stuff. Once you are stamped in you have to go to another bus station and find a bus going to the next town. There is a cambio at the border but only change enough for the bus and maybe some snacks and then change the rest at a bank or wait for an ATM in your next town.
Chiclayo was the first town we stayed in. We were immediately blown away by the prices. Our room was $10 usd (private but no bathroom) and we went out to dinner and got a 3 course meal for $6 usd at a nice restaurant. Something starts to happen to hotels the further into Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia you get. They become less for backpackers and more for…well, banging hookers. You will notice that many hotels even offer hourly rates, which really says it all right there. These aren’t the cutesy, trendy, little Euro hostels with a picture of a llama and a backpack or some shit on it. These are places where you can stay for under $10 a night. Sleep in your clothes and drink a bottle a pisco to fall asleep, and its all good.
The city of Lima is divided into two main parts. The historical old town, and the Miraflores. Staying anywhere in the Miraflores area is expensive, but it is worth checking out just to walk along the coastline and hangout in Love Park. There is a really cool brewery called Jaya Brew Company, that uses Peruvian ingredients like purple corn and quinoa in their beer. There is a great contemporary art museum in this part of town and a park full of cats? The old town part of Lima has the cathedrals and statues. You can stay there for way cheaper and there are many more food options. There is a restaurant on the top of one of the buildings in the main plaza. It’s nice, but you can go up there and just order a beer so you can experience the view.
Trujillo is a great place to station yourself for seeing a bunch of cool ruins. From here you can visit Chan Chan, Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del sol. You can also take a bus to the beach for the day. The plaza de armas is a great place to just hangout in the afternoon. There are a lot of chifas (Chinese restaurants) in town if you are getting burned out on ceviche. There’s a great outdoor strip mall area that has a lot of good breakfast restaurants and coffee shops that we really liked going to. We got super drunk on Pisco one night in Trujillo and a cop let me hold his gun. There are several cheap places to stay in the town. The city of Trujillo even has its own beer.
This beach town isn’t too exciting. I guess a lot of backpackers do like to stay here, but there’s really not too much going on. The beach isn’t even that nice, but we were there toward the end of the nice time of year for sunny days and warm water. There are no trees or vegetation around. Peru’s coast is a part of a desert, so remember that when thinking about going to the beach. There aren’t many places that feel tropical. There are lots of good restaurants in Huanchaco though, for eating ceviche and drinking beer. You can rent a surfboard here and try your luck on the waves. I was not so lucky. You can also watch some locals paddle around in some traditional thatch canoes that can be seen in the museums in Trujillo.
This is not a backpacker town. There are not attractions here, but it is very authentically Perú. You will have to sleep in a hooker hotel. The one we stayed at literally had a used condom stuck to the headboard of the bed in the room we got. I went out to the front desk and started yelling at the owner about it. He came into the room, grabbed it with his bare hand, threw it out the window onto the pedestrian sidewalk, sprayed Lysol into the air, and said, “todo bien?”
We chose to go here based solely off of looking at a map and it being by the ocean. It was a unique experience and we got to meet some good people. Tortuga is just an old fishing village. There are two hotels in town. The last check-in on the guest book in the one we chose was from a year before. We definitely got the impression from the people living there that we were the first backpackers to end up there in a long time. We knew it was weird as we were getting there. We took a series of micros out into the desert until there was literally nothing in site. The village has probably 50 people living there. We did get to eat some super fresh fish at a restaurant. A nice family had come there for the day and were excited to watch Katherine painting on the docks.
Pisco (Reserva Nacional de Paracas)
Paracas is a really unique stop if you are traveling through the Atacames desert. There are lots of tour agencies in the town of Pisco to book a trip into the park from. They all charge different prices and ultimately end up including the same thing. Basically the boats and the guides charge the tour agencies a flat rate, and then the agencies charge whatever they think they can get out of you. This is pretty common for any kind of tour in Peru. They take you out on a boat though and you get to see a crazy seal beach island, penguins, and use kayaks. Then you bus through the desert that looks exactly like a Dali painting and then they take you to a red sand beach where they filmed Planet of the Apes and show you fossils. The tour took up an entire day and was worth easily 5x what we paid for it.
We came to Abancay because we thought we would be volunteering on an indigenous farm, but that didn’t pan out. So, we just stayed in the area on our own for a few days. The city is pretty cool. There are good restaurants and some coffee shops with wifi. Someone tried to kick down our door in the middle of the night. I also witnessed a maid use the same mop and water from cleaning the bathroom to clean the floors of all of the hotel rooms. You get what you pay for in Peru though. The coolest part about Abancay is the Saywite stone and the ruins around it. The inhabitants of this land were masters of using water for agriculture. It is believed that the stone is a scale model of a city that once was or was planned. When it rains, water runs down the stone through various mazes and water ways and runs out through holes on the sides. There are some large ruins around the area too. You have to just get on a bus heading that way and ask them to let you off there. Then you still have to walk aways. Eventually, someone who lives there will come try and sell you a ticket. You don’t need one, but its nice to give them some cash because they do look after the area on their own and you’re probably not great at arguing in Quechua.
Ayacucho is a very important part of Peru’s indigenous culture and recent history. It was at the forefront of the battles fought during the Shining Path Guerrilla movement, a communist led revolution, that saw the death of over 70,000 people. The US government still has it flagged as unsafe for travel by its citizens. Ayacuho was probably the most authentic indigenous town we got to visit. There is a museum dedicated to the recent tragedy that is worth a visit, and all proceeds and donations go to families of the victims. There are also several markets in town to buy handmade indigenous clothing and local goods. The bee products were delicious. We were lucky enough to be there during an indigenous people’s day. So we were able to watch a parade with performances from different local groups and then attend a festival in a beautiful valley and eat trucha and drink chicha with the natives.